Being feminine. If you're born a female, this is your only goal in life. In this world, all that matters is looking beautiful and feminine enough to make your way up the social ladder. At age 18, the kingdom's girl's life long work of looking pretty comes down to if a boy in a line of prestigious suitors chooses us to be his mate. Of course, there are other factors in who they chose but that's the main one. If one does not choose a girl, then that girl is doomed to working in our kingdom's mines, or working for the staff at the castle if we're lucky enough. It doesn't matter who you are born to, except in certain cases where a girl who's part of the royal family has to marry for an alliance. No matter who they are, a girl must go through this process in our kingdom.
I've been working my entire life for the simplicity of being polite, graceful, but most importantly beautiful. I paint my nails every day, ensure I have zero split ends at all times, and my skin feels like silk made from only the finest of seamstresses. I have golden blonde hair, tan skin, light blue eyes, and a structured face and body.
I'm beautiful, graceful, polite, and I can make any man crazy for me. I am smart but not too smart, and I'm not clingy but I'm obedient. I can cook and clean, and children love me.
I am the absolute perfect mate for any man, no matter his social status.
There's just one tiny, itty bitty problem with me. I can put on a hell of a facade, but I do not want to get married. I would rather work in mines all my life and be spat on like the lowly peasant I am, then kiss up to a man every day, and have the only purpose of pleasing him.
I want to live my own life, no matter how little money I make or how little clothes I can buy. I want to be free of the tyranny this world has instilled into my heart since birth. I am more than some stupid hair and soft skin. I am Anne Fay, and I am an independent and strong woman.
With these beliefs, and with all the longing I have to get away from being a servant to a man, I still cannot allow myself to do what I daydream. You see, my parents need the money only marrying rich can get me. So yes, I need to be a gold digger to save my parents. But isn't that basically what this society forces us girls to be?
As I tell my friend Helen this the night before the choosing, she listens intently as she combs through my already knotless mane.
"It's quite hard to brush through all this when your hair goes all the way down to your bum." Helen chuckles slightly as I reach the end of my less than an elegant rant.
"I know! I don't even like it long. Heck, you know what I should do Helen? I should chop it all off. So what if my parents don't like it, it's my life and I don't want to be some long-haired maid to a man I don't love." I breathe out pure reckless anger.
"You know what honey, I think I know what you're saying." Helen abruptly leaves the room, and I figure she must need a break from my tiresome self.
I sigh and lay my head on the flimsy wall, slightly regretting letting that all out. I've already been eighteen for seven months, so I should be maturing.
Helen comes back and sits behind me.
"Listen, Helen, I'm sorry. I'm just angry. I love my parents and this is-" Suddenly I hear a ripping sound and my head feels at least a pound lighter.
"Uh. Helen? What was that?" I say with my voice trembling.
"I'm setting you free. This is what you want isn't it?"
"Helen. When I turn around I better not see my hair on the floor."
I turn around. My hair is indeed on the floor, and I let out a gasp. I run out of my hut into the woods, and I feel my hair to see that she has given me a cut that unevenly reaches my cheekbone. I am no longer beautiful.
I sit by a tree and I cry until the sun comes up. I then dust off the nightgown I had been wearing and I make my way to the hut that I know will be home to concerned parents, who will soon meet their worst nightmare.
I know they will hide their shock because I am more than money to them. Although this is true, I also know they put every coin they had into making sure I would receive a mate so that I could be happy and have a sufficient life with luxuries they never could provide.
I reach my hut, and as I step in, my mother's tear-stained eyes meet mine. I see her breathe a sigh of relief, then stop mid breath when her eyes reach my hair.
"Anne, we've been looking for you all night. Helen said you ran off but she didn't say why. Your-your hair." My mom looks pitiful.
I begin to cry but my father and she pull me into a hug.
"Oh honey it's okay, you still look beautiful," my mom says.
I begin to sob more intensely, to which she pulls my shoulders directly in front of her and tells me to stop.
"If you keep crying, you're going to get your face all red. Now let's clean you up and make you look presentable for your choosing. You are still prettier then any girl in this kingdom and any man with half a brain would want you."
Sniffling, I let her pull me into her room and she spends the next hour cutting my hair to be even and doing my makeup precisely as we've practiced. Finally, I pull on my red evening gown that shows just the right amount of skin, and we get picked up in the carriage that's set to arrive at all the girl's houses after sundown.
My mom comes with me in the carriage but has to wait outside the castle. The choosing happens in a specific room inside. What I assume to be one of the many butlers of the castle takes me inside and leads me through the most gorgeous hallway I've ever seen.
Decorations made of silver and gold line the walls and the ceilings seem as though they may reach the heavens.
"This way ma'am." The butler gestures to a grand room filled with the whispers of women. As I step in, what must be a hundred women's eyes meet mine. All of them are beautiful, and I am the only one of them with hair that doesn't meet my lower back.
I stand in a row with them, and the girl next to me looks me up and down.
"It seems you're missing your hair my darling," she whispers.
"It seems you're missing your manners," I whisper back.
A short man comes in and we all immediately stand like we've been practicing all our lives. The man lists off extremely long names and titles of men that will be choosing us like their horses. The only name I recognize is Prince Kyle. The girls in the room, including me, are all lucky enough to be born around the same time as him. I can feel excitement enter the air as his name is said.
The short man then goes out through a door at the opposite end of the room, and fancily dressed men enter with perfect grace and order. They've been training for this day too, but their training consists of how to select their perfect prize.
The man we're all waiting for enters. The prince comes in surrounded by guards. Once all of them have lined up the short man comes back in.
"You may choose."
All the men come up to us, inspecting like the horrid men they are. The prince walks down the line only giving glances to girls, until he comes across me.
"You," he says. His eyes are staring into mine, and I feel disgusted hit my stomach.
"Yes sir," I say in my high pitched and overly feminine tone.
"Why on earth would you do that to your hair?"
The room goes silent and I do my best to keep the last ounce of dignity I have left.
"I thought it might make it easier to serve food to my husband without contaminating it with any pieces of hair."
It was the best thing I could come up with within the heat of the moment. The king chuckles and looks at me like I'm an animal. He smiles, and finally, he says three words I shall never forget.
"I'll take her."
I feel as though I'm about to vomit. I simply wanted a male who could provide me with enough money to support my parents. I didn't want a prince, and I certainly didn't want the position he's bestowing onto me. Being a princess is a great way to get yourself killed around here.
I can feel the anger of the girls as I take a moment to interpret what I was just told. No man should want me in this state, much less a prince.
"Thank you very much, sir. It's truly an honor and I promise to make you happy."
Saying this makes me want to run away and never return, but I remind myself of my parents.
The prince leaves and one of his guards escorts me into a room slightly farther down the hall. My head is spinning, and I don't know what to do. I don't want this, but the fact is I have no choice in what happens next. I know the term princess sounds intriguing to most, but in all actuality, I'll be nothing more than a shiny thing to sit by the prince's side.
From then on my life's a whirlwind. I get presented to the king and queen who highly disapprove of my hair. I get presented to the kingdom who are surprised because they, additionally, are not particularly fond of my choice of hairstyle.
Now it's a year later. I have bared a child for the prince who is now the king, and I am exactly what I feared. I am an item for a man I do not love. The biggest thing I have done, the smallest bit of rebellion I have been allowed, is keeping my hair the same length.
I have grown to like it. It makes me feel like I'm slightly more than my femininity. I love my son to death, but I never wanted to be a mother and it makes me feel a little depleted. I'm probably horrible for saying so, but it's the truth.
So, it's like any other night. I'm laying in my bed as the king is somewhere important without me, and I'm thinking about what would have happened if I had just not gone to the choosing.
That's when I get a knock on my door.
"Come in." I sigh, preparing for it to be the king who has something to complain about.
It turns out to be one of the maids I've seen around the castle. She comes in and quietly shuts the door behind her.
"What's your business here? My maids have already come to prepare me for the night?" The maid simply puts a finger to her mouth and whispers to me.
"I don't think you're happy."
It's a simple phrase but it intrigues me.
"Whether or not that is true is no business of yours."
"My lady, I know it is true for the simple reason that if it wasn't, I know you wouldn't have kept your hair this length. I think I know some people that could help make your life just a little more bearable."
"This is completely improper, but I'm sure you know that." I sit up in my bed.
"Now who do you think could accomplish such an impossible task."
I realize I have a little too much hope in my voice. The maid gestures for me to follow her.
I make my way out of my room and she takes me to the bottom floor of the castle.
"My lady, what are you doing up so late?" One of the butlers looks very concerned as his eyes dart from me to the maid.
"I'm just visiting my son. Now please leave me to do so."
"Yes, of course, my lady."
She brings me out of the castle and into the courtyard. She then opens a little door going into the ground under a tree.
"My lady, this is the women's group. Here we silently fight the sexism that fills this kingdom. I will warn you though, what we do isn't entirely legal." The maid stands in front of a circle of what must be half the maids working in the castle. They all look very nervous.
"What makes you so sure I won't tell the king about this scandal," I say.
"Well my lady, you don't seem the type that would simply do as expected," the maid says.
"What's your name?" I ask.
"Gwen. Are you ready?"
"Yes, I indeed am." I sit down with the ladies and they tell me how they are a group of women who have helped countless ladies escape the kingdom, something very illegal to do. They say how they've participated in protests I've only dreamed of attending, and barely escaped with their lives and their identities concealed. This, although great, is not the focus of the group.
The focus of this group is having women talk about what it's like to be in a society where all that matters is how you serve men. And so that is how I survive my ruling. This is how I got through being a mindless prisoner that obeys exactly as told.
It all worked fine until the day the group got found out. That day they pulled us out, of course, shocked I took part. They burned our supplies and took all the women except me into execution. They took me to the king's room, where I met a man I had barely spent time with during our marriage.
"You thought you could disobey me like that?" He asks the simple question as though what I did was the silliest thing one could do.
"I have accepted my fate. Kill me, but I will never be a senseless woman to serve a man who I don't even know. Kill me, but know I am my own person. Kill me, but know I am not an item to look pretty, and please tell my parents I loved them."
"Darling, you're truly an idiot. But so am I, for I never should have chosen a woman with such horrid hair." The king chuckled as he grabbed my throat and pulled me to my window. The last thing I ever saw was the floor below my face.